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Ballistic Knives: Mechanisms, Applications, and Legal Considerations.

Written by:
Aleks Nemtcev
February 7, 2024
ballistic knife

What is a ballistic knife?

Ballistic knives, a topic surrounded by intrigue and controversy, have captured the attention of both weapon enthusiasts and lawmakers around the world. At its core, a ballistic knife is a specialized combat knife with a detachable blade that can be ejected to a limited range by the press of a trigger or switch, typically powered by a spring mechanism or compressed air. This unique capability distinguishes it from conventional knives and has led to a variety of uses, both practical and recreational.

ballistic knives

Advantages of Ballistic Knives

The primary advantage of ballistic knives lies in their ability to engage targets from a distance, of approximately 5 meters (16 feet), with greater force than a conventional knife thrust or throw. A distinguishing feature is their capacity to project the blade at speeds reaching 63 km/h (39 mph), significantly augmenting their effectiveness compared to traditional throwing knives. However, once discharged, the device becomes inoperative, necessitating the possession of multiple knives. Upon firing, a ballistic knife blade can penetrate wooden boards to depths of 35–40 mm, ample for reaching vital organs.


Despite their unique capabilities, ballistic knives exhibit drawbacks. Prolonged compression of the spring mechanism can lead to residual deformation, rendering them unsafe for extended periods in a cocked position. Additionally, they have a short effective range and are sensitive to contamination and corrosion due to close tolerances between moving parts. Moreover, the high speed of blade ejection poses a risk to users if mishandled.

Ballistic Knife: Design and Mechanics

Ballistic knives feature intricate design and mechanics that distinguish them from conventional edged weapons. These knives operate on a launching mechanism capable of projecting the blade with considerable force.

Basic Components and Materials

Typically comprised of a handle housing the launching mechanism and a detachable blade, ballistic knives are constructed from durable materials chosen for their strength and weight characteristics. High-grade steel is often favored for blades due to its strength and edge retention properties, while handles may incorporate metals, hard plastics, or composites for durability and grip.

what is a ballistc knife
Image credit: N.S.Armory

How Ballistic Knives Work

Ballistic knives employ various launching mechanisms, commonly spring-loaded systems. In a dormant state, the blade is secured within the handle by a locking mechanism. Activation, typically initiated by a button or lever, releases the lock, allowing the compressed spring to propel the blade forward. Some models utilize compressed air or gas for blade ejection, offering alternative means to achieve similar results.

Variations in Design Across Different Models

Ballistic knives have seen various iterations and improvements over the years, with each design aiming to enhance performance, safety, and ease of use. Some models incorporate features like adjustable power settings, allowing users to control the force behind the blade’s ejection. Others focus on compactness and concealability, catering to the needs of those who prioritize discretion. Despite these variations, all these knives share the defining characteristic of a detachable, projectile blade, making them a unique category of weaponry.

Deployment Mechanism

Spring-Operated: The most common mechanism, where a coiled spring inside the handle is compressed and released to propel the blade.

spring operated ballistic knife

Gas-Driven: Utilizes compressed gas to eject the blade. These models can sometimes offer adjustable power levels for blade ejection.

gas driven ballistic knife

Handle and Housing

Material Variations: Handles can be made from a variety of materials including but not limited to metal, plastic, or composite materials, affecting the weight and grip of the knife.

Ergonomic Designs: Some models feature ergonomically designed handles for better grip and control during use.

Safety Mechanisms: To prevent accidental deployment, ballistic knives may include safety locks or buttons.

Integrated Tools: Variations include adjustable power settings, compact and concealable designs, and integrated tools such as screwdrivers or bottle openers.

homemade ballistic knife

Are ballistic knives illegal?

The legal status of ballistic knives varies widely across jurisdictions, with regulations ranging from strict prohibitions to more permissive approaches. In the United States, federal law prohibits their manufacture, sale, and possession, with additional state-level restrictions. Similarly, countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany classify these knives as prohibited weapons, while others may regulate them under broader weapon laws.

Overview of Legality in Various Countries

Ballistic knives are subject to a wide range of regulations that differ significantly from one country to another. In some jurisdictions, they are classified alongside conventional knives and are regulated under general knife laws. However, due to their potential as projectile weapons, many countries have enacted specific statutes or regulations that address these knives directly. For instance, in the United States, federal law prohibits the manufacture, sale, and possession of ballistic knives, with additional restrictions varying by state. In contrast, other countries may have more lenient laws or even no specific mention of this type of knife, treating them under the broader category of weapons or prohibited items.

Changes in Legal Status Over Time

The evolution of laws concerning this type of knives reflects changing perceptions of their threat level and public safety concerns. Initially, when ballistic knives first appeared on the market and in public awareness, there was little to no legal recognition or regulation. As their presence became more noted, particularly with sensationalized accounts of their use in criminal activities or as tools for espionage, lawmakers began to scrutinize their status. Over time, this led to a patchwork of legislation, with some countries tightening restrictions, while others maintained a more permissive stance. The legal landscape continues to evolve as new considerations emerge, such as advancements in knife technology and shifts in societal attitudes towards weapons and self-defense.

are ballistic knives illegal

United States

Ballistic knives are federally illegal to manufacture, sell, or possess as per the Federal Switchblade Act amendments in 1986. Additionally, many states have their own laws further restricting or outright banning their possession and sale.

United Kingdom

Under the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, ballistic knives are classified as offensive weapons and are illegal to manufacture, sell, possess, or import.


Ballistic knives are prohibited weapons under the Criminal Code of Canada. It is illegal to own, import, or sell ballistic knives.


The importation of ballistic knives is prohibited under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956. Their legal status may vary by state regarding possession and use, but generally, they are considered prohibited weapons.


Historically associated with Soviet military use, ballistic knives are heavily restricted and largely illegal for civilian possession and use without specific permissions.


Ballistic knives are considered prohibited weapons under the German Weapons Act. It is illegal to carry, manufacture, trade, import, or possess them.

Applications of Ballistic Knives: Combat Use

While ballistic knives theoretically offer combat and utility applications, their practicality is limited by legal constraints and safety concerns. Special forces units typically rely on firearms equipped with silencers rather than ballistic knives. Despite this, ballistic knives hold appeal for collectors due to their unique mechanisms, historical significance, and craftsmanship. Interest in collecting these knives remains niche, primarily among enthusiasts appreciative of their mechanical innovation and historical context.

Currently, ballistic knives are not used by any special forces unit in the world due to their complete equipping with firearms equipped with silencers. Despite their potential for high-speed blade projection, the practical limitations and safety concerns have led to their absence in modern military arsenals. These knives have been prohibited in the USA since 1986, after Congress passed the relevant legislative act, reflecting concerns over their speed and potential misuse.

In conclusion

The realm of ballistic knives is characterized by a delicate balance between innovation, controversy, and regulation. These specialized combat tools offer unique capabilities, allowing for precise engagement at a distance and high-speed blade projection. However, their practicality is often overshadowed by legal restrictions and safety concerns, leading to their absence in modern military arsenals and limited deployment in other applications. Despite this, these knives retain a niche appeal among collectors and enthusiasts, who are drawn to their mechanical ingenuity and historical significance. As laws and societal attitudes continue to evolve, the future of ballistic knives remains uncertain, yet their legacy as objects of intrigue and contention endures.

Author: Aleks Nemtcev | Connect with me on LinkedIn


Ballistic Knife Prohibition Act of 1986

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